Campaigners’ warning over taxi access law

editorial image

Disability campaigners have criticised council chiefs who they claim are not doing enough to ensure disabled passengers have proper access to services.

Research released by Muscular Dystrophy UK has named Breckland District Council among a list of 15 local authorities in East Anglia which it claims have no current plans to respond to the law change.

However, West Norfolk Council leaders say they are working to meet the new requirements.

A change in the law, which came into force in April, means taxi drivers can now be fined up to £1,000 if they refuse to transport wheelchair users or attempt to charge them extra.

The law also states their taxi or private hire vehicle (PHV) licence could be suspended or revoked by their licencing authority if they fail to comply with the new law.

However, Muscular Dystrophy UK says that only applies to drivers on council lists of wheelchair accessible taxis.

And the charity has revealed that a Freedom of Information request showed 15 councils across East Anglia, including Breckland, had no current plans to produce such a list.

A spokesperson for Breckland Council said: “We are aware of this change in legislation relating to taxis and a report was considered by members in March, in advance of this coming into force in April.

“At the meeting, members felt that further national guidance was needed in order to reach an informed decision, and that it would be more appropriate to wait until a clearer picture has emerged of how the legislation has been implemented nationally.

“There are a small number of licensed wheelchair-accessible vehicles in the district and we have not received any complaints about the availability of these vehicles or of these companies refusing to carry a wheelchair. Our Committee is due to consider this decision on 22 November.”

But disability campaigner Doug Paulley, who carried out the research, said: “It is disappointing that the government’s intent in bringing in this legislation is being undermined by the failure of many councils to undertake the required office work, meaning that taxi drivers can continue to discriminate against wheelchair users with impunity.

“While conducting this research, it became clear that many councils simply didn’t think to create them until prompted. I recommend disabled people and their allies raise the issue with their local council.”

The research also revealed just 21 of 47 councils in the region are expected to meet the government-recommended October deadline to create the required list, including West Norfolk Council.

Adrian Lawrence, cabinet member for housing and community, said: “We’re very proud of the high standards we ask our taxi drivers to achieve here in West Norfolk and we do a lot to make sure that all our residents can access a safe and fairly-priced taxi ride when they need one.

“We’ve held a list of taxis that are wheelchair accessible for the past eight years, and we’re already working to change the list to the format required by the new legislation.

“We require any new Hackney carriage taxis to be wheelchair accessible, and although private hire vehicles don’t have to be, some of them are.”

Nic Bungay, director of campaigns, care and information at Muscular Dystrophy UK, called for the government to act quickly on the issue.

He said: “Taxis are not a luxury for disabled people, they often represent the only way to get from A to B when public transport isn’t accessible.

“This research comprehensively demonstrates how many councils are failing to ensure that disabled passengers are not penalised.